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Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus on World Press Freedom

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

* Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the thousands of men and women of the media here and around the world who strive every day--many of them in the face of extreme violence and repression--to report the news. This is the lifeblood of democracy. I do so as Co-Chairman of the bipartisan, bicameral Freedom of the Press Caucus, and on behalf of fellow Co-Chairman of the Caucus, Rep. Mike Pence.

* Chartered 18 years ago by the UN, World Press Freedom Day was hosted for the first time this year in the United States and was marked by a three-day conference here in Washington attended by journalists and media leaders from around the world. World Press Freedom Day isn't, however, fundamentally an academic or congratulatory exercise, Mr. Speaker. Rather, as defined by the United Nations:

* ``It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom--a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.

* ``It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide.

* ``It serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.

* ``Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.''

* One journalist who was brutally taken from us was, of course, Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, whose name last year graced the bipartisan Freedom of the Press Act. That legislation emphatically put Congress, the President and our Nation strongly on record in support of freedom of expression by mandating more detailed reporting than ever on its fate around the world in our State Department's annual Human Rights Report.

* Significantly, Mr. Speaker, Congress expressly required in The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act that the State Department chronicle not only where repression is at its most brutal and obvious, but also to shine a bright light on ``indirect sources of pressure, and censorship by governments ..... .''

* In the past months we have seen an unprecedented wave of protests and demonstrations sweep the Arab world. Two governments--in Tunisia and Egypt--have fallen to the demands of pro-democracy protesters, while others have come under intense pressure. These uprisings have highlighted the level of violence and physical harassment directed at the press. We've seen journalists threatened, arrested, beaten, assaulted, and in some cases even killed, while working on the frontlines in the fight for democracy and greater opportunity.

* After two months of silence, Lara Logan, the CBS reporter who was sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo's Tahrir Square the night that President Mubarak stepped down in February, opened up about thebrutal attack in an emotional interview on ``60 Minutes'' Sunday. Logan, whose attack shined a light on the dangers that female journalists face while working abroad, said she is proud to have broken the silence on what some female journalists have experienced but never talk about for fear they will be taken off the story.

* ABC's Christiane Amanpour and Fox News Channel's Greg Palkot and Olaf Wiig also faced physical assault and intimidation during the protests that swept Mubarak from his post--notable examples out of as many as 100 journalists who were assaulted, threatened or detained during the uprising in Egypt.

* Elsewhere in the Arab world, four New York Times reporters were taken captive by Libyan government soldiers outside of Benghazi in March. After enduring harassment and abuse, they were thankfully released.

* Less fortunate were award-winning photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, two of the most seasoned photojournalists, who were killed while covering a battle between rebels and Libyan government forces in the city of Misrata. Theirs is not only a loss to their friends and families, but also a great loss to the profession.

* Freedom of expression cannot exist where journalists are not safe from persecution and attack, which have an unnerving effect on the profession. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 16 journalists have been tragically killed this year. Alarmingly, the failure to punish or even seriously investigate crimes against journalists has now reached appalling proportions.

* And although one can certainly find such censorship in the Middle East and North Africa, or in countries such as China, Cuba, Kazakhstan, South Korea and Syria, sadly it exists and may be getting worse much closer to home.

* As just reported last month by the State Department--and as borne out by major 2010 reports of the Organization of American States, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, and many others--our own hemisphere is home to many disturbing examples of what Ms. June Erlick, a former correspondent now with the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard called a ``much more insidious'' form of press repression. Quoted in the Committee to Protect Journalists' ``Attacks on the Press 2010'' report, Ms. Erlick elaborated that, ``You never know where the censorship is coming from--through threats, attacks on the streets, new laws, or lack of access. The threats are always there and sometimes lead to self-censorship even before censorship begins.''

* In the spirit of this World Press Freedom Day, Mr. Speaker, let me then use the balance of my time to turn over just a few of these ``much more insidious'' rocks:

* In Venezuela, the government has engaged in what CPJ unambiguously calls ``a systematic campaign to stifle dissent.'' It included barring the publication of photos in conjunction with reporting on rampant crime and unsolved murder cases; suddenly voiding the broadcasting license of the nation's oldest television channel and a major critic of the government; and exploiting or inventing technical regulations to administratively shut down dozens of radio stations also critical of the government.

* In Ecuador, the OAS' 2009 Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights special rapporteur for freedom of expression found that, ``Ecuador has seen a rising climate of polarization in which attacks on and threats against journalists and media outlets of all editorial positions have increased''; a March 3 Inter-American Press Association report stated flatly that the government had ``redoubled its offensive'' against press freedom; and, just last month our own State Department's 2010 Human Rights Report found--among many other actions--that, ``In June and July, during the broadcast of the Soccer World Cup matches, the government ran a media campaign against the press, referring to media outlets as corrupt and delinquent.''

* ..... And, in Argentina--according to The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The Financial Times among many other outlets--for more than two years the government has waged an escalating war against critical media outlets. Specifically, the government: was just found by the nation's Supreme Court to have unconstitutionally allocated government advertising funds to reward news outlets favorable to its policies while withholding such funds from opponents; shut down and tried to literally force the sale of the nation's biggest private internet service provider; orchestrated a surprise raid by 200 federal tax agents on the offices of the nation's largest media company and then dismissed the raids as a ``mistake''; and--in a series of moves taken directly from the original Peronists' playbook--is seeking aggressively to seize control of the nation's newsprint supply to silence opposition newspapers by literally making it impossible for them to go to press.

* These are just a few of the things happening in a few of the countries in our own backyard, Mr. Speaker, that justify--indeed, demand that Congress remain vigilant and vocal in defense of freedom of expression everywhere ..... not just on World Press Freedom Day, but every day of every year.

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